I had what I thought to be the perfect idea in mind for the April addition to my column. It was something sweet that would coincide with the Easter holiday, or at least the commercialized version of Easter. In my mind, Easter has always fallen at some point in April, and I guess I haven’t paid much attention to the times it did otherwise, because this year, to my surprise, I found that not to be the case. So, here’s a late Easter treat for you all (15 days late, to be exact), filled with all the delicious saccharinity and bunny fluff that one could ever want. Meet Dana Wilson, our Connotation Press Artisan feature for the first full month of spring.
Wilson is the founder of a small company that specializes in crafts made for the inner-child, Chibi Works. Much of her creations would be considered cute or adorable or precious or a mix of similar terms, and each of them is made by hand and from the heart. Her operation is based in Colorado, where she lives with her loving husband who helped her jumpstart her creative venture.
After exploring the realm of Chibi Works via the World Wide Web, I noticed that the Japanese Culture was an inspiring point for Wilson and her work. A few years ago, when Chibi Works first launched, Wilson even sold a few miniaturized Pocky candy box charms (and I am happy to see that they are still going strong on her website). Now, if you are familiar with Japanese culture, you might be familiar with this famous pretzel snack. It was something that I found fascinating about Wilson’s work, because I, too, share a love for Japanese food, people, and their way of life. Of course, it is a popular topic that has been booming for years among people of the anime/cosplay/Lolita scene, those who enjoy indulging in the whimsical world that they have created for themselves. This post is both for people who seek out artwork of this genre, and also for those who are curious about what is involved in the process of creating gifts for the child at heart.
There is definitely room for cuteness in the world. Some might say that precious things can brighten a day, uplift a person, cure the blues, or provide a sort of therapy. This is definitely true for me, and if it is true for you, I hope a peek at Wilson’s crafts will put a smile on your face. Since Wilson and I had a wonderful and lengthy interview, I’ll get straight to it, but please be sure to check out her adorable Etsy shop, where many of the items she has made are on sale. I will say one more thing: for the amount of work and care that Wilson puts into her cutesy-crafts, they are extremely affordable.
Hi, Dana. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself and your business, Chibi Works.
Chibi Works first started in 2009 with me and my husband, Samuel Wilson. At the time, it was the average clay work and the fat pillow bunnies I had then. I thought it would be fun to try and start my own business, since working in retail involves a lot of stress and set hours. Everything kind of went from there. I incorporate the things that I love do to and the things that I make into the business. My hobby is creating new things for my business. It never gets old, and I love what I do. Bringing out the inner child in people.
I grew up with a love for video games and Japan. I decided someday I want to live there because it's full with so many cool things: arcades, karaoke, festivals, etc. I loved the fashions you see people wearing around Tokyo. As I slowly engrossed myself into the Lolita fashion, I created more and more Lolita accessories for myself. Thus what created my business.
I'm still jealous that you visited Japan during your honeymoon. It must have been a wonderful time. That's excellent. What was your very first official Chibi Works creation?
My first Chibi Works creations were Oreo inspired necklaces and other candy necklaces made from polymer clay.
It was so much fun being in Japan. Though when we go back, we are definitely making more stops when walking to and from destinations. I think one of the reasons most everyone is so fit over there is because of all the walking!
Ha, I keep telling myself I will make it there someday, but I am sure I will have to save up for that. Perhaps I will start a craft business of my own.
That's right! And I had every intention of buying the heart-shaped cookie necklace, but never got to. It's still one of my favorite pieces of yours. What is your personal favorite creation?
My personal favorite creation are my PatterBunnies, mostly because I get to pick out what fabrics I like the most out of all the designs available.
So do you ever design something that is just too excellent to sell that you decide to keep it?
Oh yes! All the time! I have made a few shirts for myself, and a few stuffed animals as well. My favorite creation I have kept for myself is my first PatterBunny made from fabric I can no longer find, and a cat plush.
I love your PatterBunnies. They seem to be made with so much heart. I hope you continue to make the cat plushies. I went through some older photos and when I saw one I immediately wanted to buy it. You say that your company motto is bringing out the inner child. What would you say to someone who didn't know how to embrace theirs?
It definitely isn't something you can bring out right away. It takes courage to wear certain clothes, and a lot of people view stuffed animals as childish. You don't see many adults with a room full of pastel colors and cartoon merchandise. For someone to bring out their inner child, I feel it is important for them to surround themselves with people who appreciate that side of someone and also express that side of themselves. Surrounding yourself with positive people is the best thing to do. I am a very happy person, mostly because I surround myself with people who aren't afraid to be themselves, which makes it that much more easier to express what I love and be able to do the things I do.
Happiness is what matters. You seem to enjoy your work! That's important. And it's a plus when you can genuinely have fun while doing it. I see that you do a lot of product promotion at anime conventions and the like. What are some of your favorite cons to frequent and how do they boost business for you?
I do love my work, very much! Anime conventions are where I have most of my sales. It provides a great way to get out and have a mini vacation and make a lot of new friends. My current favorite conventions are Nan Desu Kan in Denver, Colorado and Anime NebrasKon in Omaha, Nebraska. Since it can get pretty pricey to go around selling goods, we try to stay pretty close to Colorado. It helps to make the conventions more fun as well, since we see a lot of the same faces. Teens and young adults don't usually go to craft fairs or buy a lot of merchandise online, so anime conventions help with the sales a lot. Teenagers always want to bring something home for their siblings and boyfriends like to buy a little something for their girlfriends, especially the ones that were dragged to the convention. Someday, I hope to create an actual line for my business, selling in retail stores. I still have a long way to go before that though.
Sounds like a good time. At this point, it's safe to say that Japanese culture definitely has a significant influence on you. How were you first introduced to the culture and what do you like most about it?
Like most kids in the 90's I grew up with Cartoon Network. I would watch Sailor Moon whenever it came on. What little girl didn't want to be like her? As more anime and channels popped up with similar shows, such as Card Captor Sakura and Hamtaro) I noticed more culture changes and became interested in what they meant. Foods were a lot different in these shows too. I wanted so badly to know what they tasted like. As I immersed myself in the anime industry, I found a new love for Japanese rock music. Through my high school years, I tried my best to be Japanese. I tried to speak, eat, drink and sleep Japanese. It was all I wanted. Japan was a magical place to me. And that's how it all began. As for what I love most about the culture, I would have to say the fashion. You can dress up as anything you want- a clown, a panda suit, a big frilly wedding dress- and no one would care. You don't get called names and people don't stare at you for being different. It's a normal thing there.
It seems like the average American has a lot of growing to do, a lot of tolerance and acceptance to learn. Either way, you're living the dream (at least, you're living my dream). I'd love to make a life out of crafting. Is Chibi Works a full-time dedication or do you do other work on the side?
I used to try to juggle a part time job and Chibi Works at the same time. As I booked more conventions, I had little time to work on my crafts. Chibi Works is my full time job, with little time to be social. I am sitting in front of the sewing machine most of the time. I have eleven conventions to prepare for this year, so I have little time to spend with friends or make things for myself, especially since I sell out at every convention I go to. It really makes me happy that people love my work and that I get to share my passion with them. It makes it all worth it and I wouldn't change that for the world.
You could use a helping hand. Are you hiring? You could hire me.
Hahaha! I haven't gotten that far with my business yet, but when the time comes, I'll definitely let you know.
Haha, great. In which other ways has your business evolved since its launch in 2009?
When we first started, we just sold merchandise. There was no advertisement, no business card, no nothing. Because of my husband and his graphic design skills, we now have business cards with contact information, a store banner, display racks and of course, a fan base. A lot of our friends are what helped us grow. They share our business with friends and family and it goes from there.
Social networking is a bit of a blessing when it comes to small businesses. Is there any specific way having a Facebook fan page has helped you? And do you have any other social networking links that you'd like to share with the world?
Facebook is a great way to let people know you exist, and to provide more fun and a more personal experience with the artist. I personally like to let others know what I am working on that week, or if a friend's business is having a special sale and I do all that with the Facebook fanpage. For those that don't use Facebook, I also have a Pinterest account and DeviantART account.
Do you have a Twitter account?
I do, but I personally don't like Twitter, nor do I use it as often. I probably update it every 3-6 months. Haha!
Well, we have been speaking for the better part of an hour and I didn't even realize it! You've given me so much great information. Thanks for taking the time to chat, Dana! It's been a real pleasure.
Yea, it's been fun! Thank you!
*Photo credit to Dana Wilson and Jessica Hughes